Syrian regime on verge of capturing strategic Damascus-Aleppo highway
Syrian regime forces supported by Russian aircraft on Friday evening took control of seven rebel-held villages south of the city of Aleppo, coming close to capturing the entire length of the M5 highway which links Aleppo to the Syrian capital Damascus.
Control of the strategic M5 highway is believed to be one of the main objectives of the bloody ground and air campaign the regime and Russia are waging against the Idlib pocket, the last area of Syria to be held by anti-Assad rebels. The pocket includes parts of Idlib province and neighbouring Aleppo province.
All of the length of the M5 highway in Idlib province is now in regime hands, leaving only a 30 kilometre stretch of it in Aleppo province still under rebel control.
Running up from the Jordanian border in the south of the country, the M5 is Syria's longest highway.
It cuts through fertile fields, industrial zones and four major cities, including Damascus and Aleppo.
The correspondent of The New Arab’s Arabic-language service said that heavy fighting was still ongoing around the seven villages the regime has entered.
Earlier, the regime took control of the rebel stronghold of Saraqeb, east of Idlib city, amid clashes with Turkish forces. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said previously this week that he “will not allow” the regime to take control of the entirety of rebel-held Idlib province.
Over 580,000 people have been displaced in the past two months by the regime’s assault and at least 300 more have been killed. Turkey fears an influx of refugees if the regime advances further into Idlib province, which is home to more than 3.5 million people.
Most of those displaced by the recent fighting have fled to areas close to the Turkish border, which is closed to refugees.
A recent poll found that 90% of people displaced from their homes in Idlib would be unwilling to return to Assad regime held territory. The regime has previously detained and killed civilians in areas it has captured from rebels.
Following the capture of Saraqeb, Turkish forces established a new military post in nearby Sarmein. Turkey currently maintains 12 military observation posts in Idlib province.
100 Turkish military vehicles, including tanks, also entered Idlib province from the Kafr Lusin border crossing in southern Turkey on Friday.
The Syrian conflict began in 2011 following the brutal suppression of peaceful pro-democracy protests by the Assad regime. Over half a million people have been killed and millions more displaced throughout the course of the conflict, mostly as a result of regime bombardment of civilian areas.